Conflict Resolution Tips for Responders

Active and passive resistance can both be used to keep a violent situation from erupting.

When first responders reach the site of an emergency that is in progress, it is often unnerving and unsettling. They must keep their wits about them and perform their duty, all the while focusing on their own personal safety. And in certain situations, first responders must work to deflate rising levels of emotionalism to prevent further incidents.

The Safety Center Inc. offers a conflict resolution class that features training for how to deal with people during emergencies to supplement a first responder’s initial field training. Senior Staff Instructor Bruce Anderson, a former police officer, said the main focus of the class is to teach first responders how to control the situation better and not be controlled by it.

“It’s not really anything new; it’s the same basics that we teach anybody. But we want them to know the indicators of violence that they should watch for in conflict and what that fine line is,”Anderson said. Anderson begins his class with a reminder of the three basic rules of survival: stay aware, stay together, and run as fast as you can.Anderson also points out the best traits used for defense are skill, prevention, awareness, and attitude. “You have to be able to evolve with what is going on around you. 9/11 is a perfect example. Nothing like that ever happened to us before,” he said.“Never assume that the situation is going to be ideal.”

The formula for a conflict, if known, is simple to recognize. When people, differing views, and a triggering event come together, the potential for a conflict is great.

Assessing the Situation
There are four basic human needs:power,belonging,happiness, and freedom.And any time these needs are compromised, there is a potential for conflict,Anderson said. “There are a lot of factors—when you’re dealing with people’s emotions being the biggest one.When you bring emotions into a crisis situation, you eliminate logic and reason,” Anderson said. According to him, most people become emotional when they are given something they don’t want or something is taken away from them. Emotion, gain, competition, relationships, peer pressure, and personal attitude are all contributing factors in how a person is influenced to behave at any time. Anderson makes a point of acknowledging that victims and victims’ families aren’t the only sources of conflict during an emergency.

“There’s always going to be peer pressure among the ranks. Old guys don’t change their ways and new guys want to become the old guys, but they don’t have the experience,” Anderson said.“But it’s important to remember that machismo, cowboy antics can get people killed. Verbal indicators of impending violence include abusive language, threats, mentioning weapons, making unreasonable demands, self-righteousness, and using curse words. Physical signs to watch out for include a change in posture, staring, clenched fists, staggering, and appearing nervous or anxious.

Anderson warned that any threat of violence should be considered real, and emergency responders should give plenty of space between themselves and the person who is issuing the threats. “You have a right to do nothing if you think it will ensure survival,” he said.

Active and passive resistance can both be used to keep a violent situation from erupting. Both verbal and nonverbal techniques can be applied, as well as non-aggressive physical contact.Active resistance is more about creating an opportunity for escape and getting away from the situation.

This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Elizabeth K. Wilson is a freelance writer from Sacramento, Calif. The Safety Center Inc. was founded in 1934 with the mission to reduce injuries and save lives by providing safety education and training. For more information, call 800-825-7262. You can visit the company's Web site at www.safetycenter.org.

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